Did Jesus Repudiate His Divine Nature?
“Did Jesus imply that he is not ‘God,’ in his statement to the young ruler in Mark 10:18?”
Here is the disputed passage in full.
“And as he [Christ] was going forth into the way, there ran one to him, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why do you call me good? none is good save one, even God” (Mk. 10:17-18).
When the “rich young ruler” addressed Jesus as “Good Teacher,” the Lord posed this thought-provoking question: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except One, even God” (Mk. 10:17-18). In making this response, was Christ denying his divine nature? No; actually, the gist of his argument was just the opposite.
The young man carelessly had used the word “good,” as though Jesus was merely a good teacher in much the same way that certain rabbis had distinguished themselves as effective teachers, though apparently the expression “Good Teacher” was not formally used of the rabbis (I.H. Marshall, “Mark,” The Daily Devotional Bible Commentary, Nashville: Holman, 1977, p. 140), which makes this incident all the more exceptional. The ruler’s casual use of the adjective had been evidenced already when he inquired about what “good thing” might he do to inherit eternal life – as reflected in Matthew’s parallel account (Mt. 19:16).
Clearly the Lord turned the conversational flow in another direction, employing the term “good” in an unusual sense; indeed, in the absolute sense – perfect goodness (see A.T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research, London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1919, p. 661). That Jesus used the term “good” in the absolute sense, rather than in a relative sense, is evident from the fact that, in describing the final Judgment of mankind, the Lord pledged to acknowledge the faithful as “good” servants (Mt. 25:21,23) – without any implication that they possessed the nature of deity.
In the case at hand, the Savior – ever looking for just the right opportunity to instruct – seized upon the man’s language to drive home a tremendously important point.
The Master Teacher was attempting to lead the young gentleman into an analysis of his use of “good.” E. Bickersteth paraphrases the Lord in this way. “If you call me good, believe that I am God; for no one is good, intrinsically good, but God” (“St. Mark,” The Pulpit Commentary, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1962, II, p. 61). Similarly, R.C. Foster renders it: “Do you know the meaning of this word you apply to me and which you use so freely? There is none good save God; if you apply that term to me and you understand what you mean, you affirm that I am God” (Studies in the Life of Christ, Grand Rapids: Baker, 1971, p. 1022).
In view of the massive volume of evidence in the Scriptures which indicates that Christ possessed a divine nature (e.g., Isa. 7:14; 9:6; Jn. 1:1; 10:30; 20:28; etc.), how could anyone possibly arrive at the conclusion, on the basis of this solitary passage, that the Lord repudiated his own divine identity? No one would contend for such a baseless view – unless pursuing a hostile agenda.
About the Author
Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.